We’ve come a long way from jolly old England and the days when a widow was allowed to remain on a property in the ‘dowager house’ when an heir took over the estate.
These days the descendants of the dowager house are probably what we know as ‘granny flats’ and there’s a granny flat building boom happening in Australia, especially where rents and property prices are high.
Also known as…
The granny flat is sometimes known as a ‘fonzie’ after the old US TV sitcom Happy Days, whose character The Fonz rented something similar – only his was an upstairs apartment.
Granny flats of old were often built above the garage. In other countries, they’re known as a carriage or guest house, accessory or mother-in-law apartments, granny or in-law suites or ‘dependent person units’. But don’t be misled by the term ‘granny’ or ‘dependent’ because they’re for all ages and stages and also for grandpa, a lodger or two, or for overnight and B&B guests.
There are some great versatile granny flat designs being built nowadays. Granny flats typically have up to two bedrooms and come in many styles, such as cute country cottage or farmhouse themes for a more traditional little home with an Australian feel.
Others are more fashion forward with polished concrete floors, neutral colours, furnished with rattan, teak or stainless steel dining suites.
Granny flats can even have their own outdoor living space with a deck and entertaining area and private garden or be a cube-shaped highlight at the bottom of a sloping garden.
If you want to go the whole hog, get an architect to design your granny flat and yours will be the talk of the street. However, some granny flat designs are so fabulous they can put the rest of the property to shame. So make sure the design fits in with the existing dwelling or you might find the property hard to sell in future.
Designs can include large windows and high ceilings to create a sense of space, yet maintain a cosy feeling. They can imitate the shape of a larger house and have a brick paved pathway, and a verandah or patio.
Besides the bedroom or bedrooms, there are designs with kitchenettes, laundry facilities, bathrooms, and a comfy living room often with a workspace, so the resident has everything they need to live independently from the main house.
What are the rules?
Granny flats have been built in Australian backyards or tacked onto existing houses since way back when. But their popularity has increased recently since most councils are now more in favour of them, lessening the hassle and cost of getting the plans approved, although you still must follow the strict rules.
In NSW, the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) sees granny flats as a ‘complying development’ and refer to them as ‘secondary dwellings’. Granny flat sizes are usually limited by councils to 60sqm of living space and 12sqm for the outdoor area.
However, in Victoria, you can’t rent out your granny flat, so it has to be used as accommodation for a dependent relative and it has to be movable so that once the relative no longer needs it, it can be taken away.
So you can (with council approval) in most states add a granny flat to your backyard to rent it out as a B&B to help pay off the mortgage, to give teens a retreat or young adult children who have ‘failed to launch’ a greater feeling of independence. You might want to give your Mum and/or Dad a place to live close by in case they need you as they get older. However, it can be fun to plan and dream, but another thing to actually get what you want.
Advice for selecting a builder:
● Make sure they’re licensed,
● they have a good reputation,
● can deliver what you ask for when promised
● and they can build it at a cost you can afford, with council approval.
● Always check references and read reviews.
It’s a good idea to have it built by a granny flat specialist, or a company you trust or have used before.
What about the costs?
Costs can range from a granny flat DIY kit – not advisable – from around $10,000 (you might only get the shell, minus the plumbing and other vital and expensive additions) to something highly posh and professional for up to $130,000 or more. You can even buy transportable granny flats, which are much grander and stylish than the old school demountable ones, and best of all you can take it with you if you sell.
Granny flats can add value to your home, providing they are well maintained and fit in with the ambience of your outdoor spaces.
But remember, if you intend to rent it out you’ll only be entitled to one meter, so you’ll be paying for your lodger’s power, water, and unless you get a separate NBN box, their home phone and Wi-Fi too.
Still not convinced? Check out these three reasons you should build a granny flat.